Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Muna Wehbe, CEO of the UK-based Stars Foundation. In the piece, Muna describes the foundation’s Impact Awards, a cornerstone of its programming, and explains why the award categories were expanded this year to recognize local organizations that have made an impact on the lives of children through interventions in WASH.
At the Stars Foundation, we have spent the last 12 years identifying and investing in exceptional organizations working to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. Since 2007, we have focused our energy on the annual Impact Awards – a program that recognizes and rewards outstanding local organizations operating in the countries with the highest rates of under-five mortality.
Initially, we only accepted applications from local charities in Africa, but gradually expanded to the Middle East and Asia-Pacific by 2010. Winners were awarded for both their effective management and impact on the lives of children in one of three categories: Health, Education or Protection.
Using this model, we have established relationships with some of the best local organizations in the developing world; organizations that are embedded in their communities, responding to local needs with innovative and effective development programs that, admittedly, are always more integrated than the reductive category headlines above would have you believe.
This was certainly true for Restless Development Nepal and Action for Integrated Sustainable Development Association (AISDA) in Ethiopia. While they were ostensibly awarded for their impacts in education and health respectively, a large proportion of their development interventions involved water — improving access to it, and raising awareness of the hygiene and sanitation issues that surround it.
This is symptomatic of many of our local partners.
The connections between health, education and water are undeniable. And after a comprehensive strategic review last year, in which we interrogated our proxy measure for need — UNICEF’s under-five mortality index (PDF) — it was clear how crucial improving water, sanitation and hygiene is to child survival, and to effecting lasting impact at scale. Unsafe or inaccessible water and poor sanitation and hygiene contribute significantly to the number of preventable child deaths each year.
But our Awards program did not reflect that.
So, in recognition of its enormous impact on child survival, Stars will be awarding its first two Impact Awards in the WASH category this year, no longer conflating it with health or education.
Marketing to, assessing and awarding in a new category has not been without its challenges.
In every category of the Impact Awards, we remain fairly agnostic about the specific interventions themselves, and instead focus on the overall impact the organization is having on the lives of children, as well as evaluate its management and governance practices.
And while we’re thrilled with the results of the 2013 Awards, we recognize additional adjustments to the process may be needed as the level of technical expertise associated with assessing interventions in the WASH sector seem to be even more pronounced than in other categories.
We cannot reveal the names of the inaugural Stars Impact Award winners in WASH just yet (they will be announced at a ceremony in mid-December and we’ll post the winners here as well). But we can disclose that, unsurprisingly, local organizations working to improve the lives of children do not ever focus on just one development issue in isolation. Rather, they employ a range of projects and interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of their communities’ most vulnerable members.
That is the strength of local organizations. And we’re delighted that adapting our award strategy accordingly with the addition of the WASH category means we can now support even more of them.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Trupthi Basavaraj and Rachel Findlay of the charity think tank and consultancy NPC, which provides strategic support to the Stone Family Foundation and has coordinated the Stone Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Water. Here they share some of the key lessons that NPC has learnt from running the Prize. A version of this story also appeared in Alliance magazine.
Prizes have long been successful at inspiring technological innovation, from determining a ship’s longitude to creating a toilet that costs less than five cents per user per day to operate. What is less common is using a prize as a tool to stimulate innovation in service delivery. So when the Stone Family Foundation set up the Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Water, it was all about doing just that.
As a part of our wider strategy to support entrepreneurial initiatives in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector, we launched the £100,000 Stone Prize earlier this year. After an extensive eight-month process of identifying and short-listing candidates, we finally found our Prize winner — Dispensers for Safe Water (DSW) in Kenya — and four other organisations that we hope to support outside of the Prize.
The Prize came about as a way to identify early stage water initiatives that the Foundation could support, and eventually help scale up. The search was for innovative approaches to delivering safe water in a sustainable and cost-effective manner to those without access in sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. For the Foundation, running the Prize has been an exciting process, and one that has taught us several key lessons, three of which we have highlighted here.
Firstly, to attract the right type of initiatives and ultimately short-list candidates, it was important to set clear criteria — without being overly prescriptive. We identified six criteria for the Prize, but with a particular emphasis on two areas: a) innovation in technology or service delivery, typically in response to a specific need, and b) innovation in financial model, looking to harness the power of the private sector.
DSW meets both of these requirements. It addresses a clear need in rural Kenya: its water purification technology, a simple dispenser, is filled with chlorine and placed near a communal water source, allowing individuals to treat their water free of cost with the correct dose of chlorine. (To learn more about DSW's work, read this post.) But what makes this initiative truly exciting are two innovative financial models. First, the dispensers generate carbon credits by reducing the demand for boiling water using firewood, which DSW will eventually be able to sell. Second, DSW is able to bundle the dispenser as part of a wider package of agricultural goods sold by its partner, One Acre Fund. If successful, both models offer new ways of making water purification accessible and sustainable for low-income communities. It will also allow DSW to expand the Kenya Chlorine Dispenser System program into other countries.
Secondly, running a prize scheme is not just about funding. It’s also about generating publicity in a way that reactive grants programmes cannot. Getting publicity right is important not only for attracting applicants, but also for promoting the winning candidate and its approach. Our strategy was to identify the right partners and to leverage their extensive networks, reaching out to organisations both within the WASH sector and outside it. At the end of the first round, the Foundation received 179 applications from 39 different countries. We hope the Prize will not only help DSW gain recognition and attract further support from other funders, but also stimulate wider discussion on what innovation means for the water sector.
Finally, we also learnt that it was important to have the right reward in place. The promise of £100,000 for scaling up the winning initiative attracted a pool of strong applications, but as we narrowed down the candidates, it became clear that the level and type of funding offered through the Prize was not necessarily appropriate for all. As a result, the Foundation is now looking at the best way to support four highly commended candidates outside the Prize framework — this could be through providing investment or smaller grants to further test an aspect of the approach, or simply by helping to identify partners to move an initiative from pilot to scale.
For the Stone Family Foundation, the Prize has been a successful endeavour. It has enabled us to find some exceptionally strong grantees for the Foundation that we might not otherwise have discovered. It has also given us a sense of the wide range of innovations within the WASH sector, especially in countries such as Kenya, India, and Cambodia where the local environment has led to a growth in entrepreneurial initiatives. Much depends on what a funder is looking for and how a prize is structured, but we feel prizes can be an incredibly powerful tool for identifying and driving innovation.
Editor’s Note: The STARS Foundation is a London-based organization that provides grants to nonprofits working with disadvantaged children. The Foundation is now accepting applications for their 2013 Impact Awards, including their new WASH category, which recognizes the impact that WASH solutions can have on improving the well-being of children.
The STARS Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of the 2013 STARS Impact Awards recognizing outstanding organizations that achieve excellence in the provision of services to disadvantaged children.
In response to a growing demand for flexible funding, STARS invites NGOs to apply for up to 16 Impact Awards and, for the first time, has added a new category — Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) — due to the impact that improvements in this area can have on child survival and well-being.
Organizations working with children in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or the Pacific are invited to apply.
The main Impact Award will be given to four winners per region — one in each of the following categories: Health, Education, Protection, and WASH. Winners will each receive $100,000 of unrestricted funding together with a bespoke package of consultancy, PR, and media support. Each organization will also benefit from the opportunity to work together with STARS for up to one year to promote their plans to other donors and seek to raise additional funding.
In addition to these main Impact Awards, smaller awards of different sizes will be made at the discretion of STARS’ board of trustees.
To find information regarding the application process, the eligibility criteria, and to apply online, please visit the Foundation's web site.
The closing date for applications is 1PM GMT Monday, November 12, 2012.